Over the years I have come in contact with many people who have a particular attitude toward their spirituality that is rather common among Christians. It is an attitude that I, at a time, blew off as relatively harmless at worst, and temporarily therapeutic at best.
Not too long ago I was talking with a gal whose spirituality I was assessing for the purpose of leadership. She had a strong Christian background and an Evangelical heritage. While having a casual discussion about these things, I asked her “Do you love God? . . . Why?” I ask this of just about everyone whom I get close to in the church. She was hesitant in her answer. Finally, in essence, this is what she said, “I know God, but I don’t like him right now.” The “right now” was meant to communicate that her positive passions for God had been put on hold and replaced with animosity. In other words, it was not apathy, but anger. It starts with anger, then naturally moves to something worse—apathy.
(Necessary parenthetical comment coming.)
It is often said that hate is the opposite of love. I don’t think this is true. In order to truly hate someone, one must have quite a bit of emotion invested in that person. It may be negative emotion, but it is an emotion of concern for the individual. It may be bad, but it has yet to breach the antinomy of love. Apathy is the complete lack of emotion, concern, or care in any way for the other. It is the bankruptcy of feeling.
(Tuck that away just for a moment and we will get back to it.)
The gal that I talked to had yet to become apathetic toward God. There was simply something she was angry about. Maybe it was a particular characteristic about him that she did not like. Maybe it was something he had allowed or does allow that she did not agree with in her life or the life of others.
My counsel was not very good. I actually encouraged her in this. I told her that this was not only okay, but it is often healthy to allow yourself to be angry with God. I brought up examples of David in the Psalms to illustrate. My counsel ended there. This caused her to settle more in her negative thoughts about God.
It has been many years and I still know this gal. She is different. Her spirituality has grown, but not in a positive way. In fact, she has gone from anger to apathy. Her answer to my question (“Do you love God? . . .Why?) would be, “I don’t really care.” She has allowed herself to entertain a new solution to coping with the anger—letting go of all emotion completely. “I don’t care about God. He does what he does and we just have to deal with it. I know him, but I am not concerned. I just get on with my life and try to navigate his movements as best I can.”
Apathy is actually a defense mechanism in all relationships. When we cannot change the one we love, when they don’t live up to our standard, when they repeatedly do things we don’t like, we just disconnect. I understand this. It is often the only course of action when it comes to human sinful relationships, but when it comes to our relationship with God, it is very dangerous.
There are a few ways for us to deal with anger toward God. Let me illustrate the two wrong ones C.S. Lewis style:
BAD OPTION #1: Recreate God
Us: I can’t believe God is so absent. I can’t believe that he claims to be in control and yet allows this in my life. God, you are not there when I really need you. I don’t like you at all.
Satan: It is not that you don’t like God, it is just that you don’t know him the way you should. There are many interpretations and approaches to choose from. Just find the one’s that work best for you.
This happens when God has characteristics that we don’t like. We simply mold him into something that is more like-able. This way we don’t have to become apathetic. This will affect our doctrine as our theology is molded around what we believe is the most palatable.
BAD OPTION #2: Apathy
Us: I can’t believe that God continues to allow this to happen. I am so angry at him.
Satan: Good. Stand your ground. He thinks he can do whatever he wants. You are right to feel this way because you are human, he is not. He does not really understand. Don’t listen to that blabber about “fully-God, fully-man.” He was never really human the way others are.
Us: But how do I deal with these emotions? They are eating me up!
Satan: Let them go.
Us: Let them go where?
Satan: Out of existence. He is not going to change. Believe me. He is the most stubborn God there every was. No one can change him. But you can get on with your life. You can know him, but just don’t care about him anymore.
This “road to apathy” is just as dangerous as option 1. In fact, in many ways, I believe that it is more dangerous. However, in both, there is a common characteristic that makes each possible: pride. In essence, we put our views, opinions, the way we would do things if we were God, above his. We take the moral high ground.
It starts with anger. We sit in judgment upon the Lord. We think that “our eyes” have a clearer and better view of life. We place God before our tribunal and find his righteousness wanting. Once God has been deemed guilty, we move on knowing we can’t change him. This “moving on” is our way of coping with the anger. Anger has just turned to apathy. The antinomy of love has just been realized and we have justified it due to our own pride.
We must be very careful when we get angry with God. When we don’t like him this is no less than saying that he is lacking a characteristic that we believe should be present. Or it is that we believe that he possesses a characteristic that we judge should not be present. Either way, we sit in judgment upon him and consider our own righteousness to be greater than his. In order to carry on—in order to cope—we either change the unchangeable or we disregard him as sovereign in our lives.
If you feel anger toward God deal with it. Pray for submission. Pray for humility. Pray for your own change. Resist every temptation to change him or to “move on.” The Christian worldview does not allow us to change him nor to entertain apathy. To stand in judgment upon God is the worst of all positions to become comfortable with. I imagine there are a lot of people who know God, but don’t like him. I certainly understand this. Believe me. But, in the end, everything he does is right and good even though it may not seem to be such. Every way he is, every attribute and every action, is perfect. We are not the standard, he is. We are not his judge, he is ours.
When he says that he is love and that he cares for us, when he says that he will never leave us for forsake us, when he says that all things are working together for good, when he says that he is in control, when he says that he is bringing an end to pain, when he says that he is going to wipe away every tear from our eyes, then let us fall in love with the one who does not lie and does not change. Let us fall in love with the judge, not become an apathetic judge.
In short, I no longer believe that it is healthy to entertain unresolved anger toward the Lord. “I know God, but don’t like him” is not good. To truly know God is to trust him and love him.